Researchers unearth prehistoric panda fossils that reveal the mystery of their 'sixth finger'

In southwest China, scientists have unearthed fossils dating back millions of years that may finally explain the origin of the pandas' diet.

Pandas love to snack on crunchy bamboo sticks and plants but were they always like this? Some researchersfound fossils dating back six million years, that might explain many undiscovered things about pandas. How did the panda become vegetarian?

Why did the panda become herbivorous?

Pandas might not always have been vegetarian. This is proven by these fossils dating back several million years found in the province of Yunnan, located in southwestern China. These fossils reveal the mystery of the panda's six fingers. The extra toe was evolved essentially so that they could handle the bamboo stalks and break them easily.

The fossil, which belongs to the panda’s ancestor, named ‘Ailurarctos’, shows the evolution of the species, which today feeds mostly on bamboo. Xiaoming Wang, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County said:

The giant panda is a rare case of a large carnivore that became a herbivore… The false thumb of Ailurarctos shows [...] for the first time the chronology and probable evolutionary stages of bamboo feeding in pandas

Panda’s ancestry

As per the Independent, the additional thumb has always been present in the panda’s ancestors. They might have used it differently though, for instance, to grip the tree branches. Its shape and bone structure might have been different as well.

Scientists speculate that the evolved limb of the panda might be a combination of ‘manipulating the bamboo’ and the way they use it to walk. Moreover might also be used to help in the even distribution of weight across all the limbs.

This article is translated from Gentside FR.

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